Caring for the Caregiver: Four Roads to Better Health

“You need to take care of yourself first. If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t take care of someone else.” — Kathleen O’Brien, Alzheimer’s Association, Chicago

You can't burn the candle from both ends
O’Brien had the right idea. How many times have you burned the candle at both ends, knowing the exhaustion was affecting not only your quality of life, but also that of the people you care for? Caregiving requires a strong and healthy body, as well as time away to recharge mentally and emotionally. Try the following tips to be the best caregiver you can be.

Follow a healthy diet 
We all know diet affects our health and the way we look, but did you know it also influences moods and emotions? Take some tips from Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D., who says a balanced diet may help an individual regulate moods and maintain a steady energy level.
  • Eat frequent, small meals that include complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains.
  • Drink plenty of water, while limiting alcohol and caffeine.
  • Include tryptophan, found in milk, bananas, oats, soy, poultry, cheese, nuts and seeds.
  • Pay attention to food sensitivities. In some individuals, certain foods can trigger irritability or anxiety. Common offenders include wheat, corn, soy, dairy, eggs, nuts and shellfish. 

Get plenty of exercise 
The idea of working exercise into an already busy lifestyle may sound difficult, but even low-intensity physical activity for short time periods has benefits. Physical activity not only improves heart, muscle and bone health, it helps alleviate stress, and caregivers are at risk of suffering from adverse health effects due to stress. You don’t have to join a gym to get exercise; do things you enjoy.
  • Take a class. Contact a dance studio to learn some new moves, practice tai chi at a community center, or find a water aerobics class at your local Y.

  • Learn a new activity. You might find a new favorite hobby, and it may only require a small investment in equipment. Take up tennis, learn the joys of inline skating along a boardwalk, or visit a golf club to inquire about lessons.

  • Bike or walk instead of driving. Not only will you not have to deal with parking headaches, but you’ll be helping the environment and improving your fitness at the same time. Explore trails and bridges you can only access by foot or bicycle.

  • Don’t forget strength and flexibility training. Maintaining strong bones and muscles and staying flexible to avoid injury are imperative for caregivers. Strength training can be in the form of weight-bearing exercise like walking, calisthenics or using hand weights. Do gentle stretches before bed, when your muscles are warmed up and flexible. Or practice both strength and flexibility training in a yoga or Pilates class. 

Focus on quality sleep 
As caregivers, we ideally want to be sharp, energetic and emotionally balanced, and getting plenty of quality sleep at night is a good starting point. While it varies by individual, most adults need about eight hours of sleep a night. Try the following strategies to make the most of your sleep time.
  • Follow a regular sleep schedule. Try to rise and retire at about the same time every day, even if it means taking a short afternoon nap or doing something mentally stimulating after dinner to stay awake until bedtime. Relax before bed. Try a warm bath, reading or a light snack. If stress is keeping you awake at night, try writing in a journal; record your concerns, then close the book and put your worries away for the night.

  • Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. Aim for a quiet, dark, cool room with a comfortable bed, luxurious linens and just the right amount of pillows.

  • Talk to your doctor if you suffer from insomnia that affects your daily productivity. 

Take time for yourself 
Think back to a time when your life wasn’t so busy. What did you enjoy doing? Whether it was spending time outdoors, hosting a dinner party, perusing the shelves at a library or crafting handmade items, taking the time to do what you like will help you mentally recharge.
  • Schedule time for your interests. Keep a paper calendar within sight and block off time for yourself. This is your time, completely guilt-free. Arrange for a family member to pitch in and help so you can have time off.

  • Share your interests with a loved one you’re caring for. Take her for a walk outside or to a library, cook dinner together or share your passion for crafting.

  • Take regular vacations. Be firm with your plans; make caregiving arrangements with family members or look into in-home care services. It’s easy to let guilt trick you into waiting “just one more year” for a vacation, but a happy, fulfilled caregiver is a better caregiver.

Founder of The CareGiver Partnership
About The CareGiver Partnership. The CareGiver Partnership is a national direct-to-consumer retailer and caregiver resource providing support, convenience and old-fashioned customer service to those caring for a loved one. The company’s Web site provides the largest online library of resources on subjects most important to caregivers and offers more than 3,000 home care products. Product specialists answer the phone within three rings and assist in helping customers choose just the right products. The company also offers its patent-pending automatically scheduled delivery service, Never Run OutSM, which ships supplies automatically based on need. The CareGiver Partnership was founded in 2004 by Lynn and Tom Wilson of Neenah, Wisconsin. Visit to learn more.


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